Why Your Child May Need to See a Therapist

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We all want the best for our kids. If our child breaks their arm, we go right to the hospital, but if the same child is expressing anxiety or seems depressed, many parents aren't sure what to do.

Just like adults, children go through difficult periods where they need help, guidance, or just someone to listen.

Children deal with school stress, bullying, friend drama, grief, and many transitions throughout childhood. Sometimes children are embarrassed or scared to tell mom or dad that something is wrong, and other times parents are unsure if a problem is fleeting or something more serious. There is lots of help for kids of all ages and no parent should feel alone when it comes to their child's mental health.

Here are some signs that your child should talk to a therapist:

Changing Eating or Sleeping Habits

If your child's eating or sleeping habits have drastically changed, don't ignore it. Sleeping too much or not at all is a red flag and new eating habits may be a sign of an eating disorder.

Engaging in Destructive Behaviors

If your child is engaging in repeated behaviors of destruction, it is important that they talk to a therapist. Self-destructive behaviors include cutting themselves, digging their nails into the skin to try to cause pain, or other acts of self-mutilation. Other destructive behaviors include alcohol or drug use.

These behaviors are a mask that numbs deeper anger, pain or resentment. The help of a therapist can make a world of difference in these situations.

Extreme Feelings of Sadness or Worry

If a child seems unusually anxious, sad, or irritable for an extended period of time and it is getting in the way of their ability to do things they normally do, it is a good idea to seek help. Pay attention if your child is crying a lot or excessively worrying.

Behaving Badly

If your child's behavior is disrupting your family or getting them in trouble in school, something more might be going on. Many children express emotions through negative behaviors, such as acting out, talking back to teachers or fighting with friends so before you jump to punish, think about whether talking to someone may be a better solution.

Isolating From Friends

Social withdrawal or isolation from peers is a sign that something may be wrong. They may decline invitations or delete social media accounts. This is especially true if this behavior is a big change from their usual personality.


It is common for kids to regress after major life changes, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move, or a divorce between their parents. However, regressions such as bedwetting, excessive fearfulness, tantrums, and clinginess unrelated to a change may be a sign of an issue.

Increased Physical Complaints

Sometimes mental health issues in kids take the form of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches. Once you have ruled out any actual medical issues with a doctor, your next step may be a therapist. 

Some life experiences are inherently difficult, stressful, or emotional, and it would benefit your child if they had a professional outlet to talk to that isn't mom or dad.

Talks About Death Frequently

It is normal for kids to explore the concept of death and talk about it in a curious way, but repeated talk about death and dying is a red flag. Listen for statements about suicide or thoughts about killing other people. Any talk about suicide or killing another person requires immediate help.

If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Situations When a Therapist Could Help

The following situations include life changes or stressful situations that your child may not have the proper tools to cope with. Adults go to therapy for many of these exact reasons, so it makes sense that a child would be sad, confused, or frustrated and not be able to know proper coping skills and simply need someone to talk to who is not their parent:

  • Custody disputes
  • Breakup with a partner
  • Dealing with a death in the family or a close friend
  • Having a hard time with a new sibling
  • Management of a serious, acute, or chronic illness
  • Moving homes or changing schools
  • Parent getting divorced
  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or other traumatic events

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to be concerned if your teen is acting out of character. But it is also important to be proactive and give your child the tools to process their feelings. The guidance of a professional counselor or therapist who specializes in issues affecting teens can be incredibly helpful for children going through a tough time. Therapy offers teens a safe space to share their feelings and a guide to help them work through these challenges.

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